The ending felt familiar but with a lot less emotion, as VAR once again overturned a big late Manchester City goal as Tottenham leave the Etihad with a 2-2 draw.
The stakes were much lower given the competition and timing of the match, but the result was the same, with Tottenham leaving the happier of the two sides. On a day with some scintillating football, it was again VAR that left the biggest imprint. A late hand ball call from VAR overshadowed what otherwise was an important point for Mauricio Pochettino and his side.
Pochettino finding his groove
A huge key for anyone playing Manchester City these days is absorbing early pressure and keeping them off the board in the first 10 minutes. However, the first five minutes had the look of Spurs conceding early.
Pep Guardiola’s plan was clear; overload the left flank and use Zinchenko to create space for his forwards. The right back, in this case Kyle Walker-Peters, commits slightly to Zinchenko as he flies up the wing leaving Sterling and Aguero one-on-one with a center-half – Toby Alderweireld and Davison Sánchez. Now instead of a compact back line, the backs are spread, giving the offence some advantage.
As Zinchenko went flying up the flank, Moussa Sissoko would point, asking KWP to race over and cover. After about a dozen minutes, Pochettino made his first tactical change, asking Sissoko to follow his run rather than handing him off.
Up until that point, City was very much on the front foot. However, once Pochettino asked Sissoko to run with the back on the flank the space was no longer available for City to create numbers and Spurs found their footing in the game, albeit temporarily.
Spurs slowing Raheem Sterling and stopping the early goal?
A key for Tottenham coming into the game was slowing down Raheem Sterling, who had four goals in his last six games against Tottenham prior to yesterday. Sterling’s header, given Spurs had finally gotten their legs beneath them, really stung.
The defence finally looked settled, but some beautiful play from Kevin DeBruyne and Sterling undid Spurs. DeBruyne received the ball with his back to goal about 35 yards our and first-timed a pass out wide to Bernardo Silva. As Silva began dribbling at Spurs, Rose, Eriksen and Winks all moved in Bernardo’s direction.
DeBruyne had started to run into the box, checked and stopped about 25 yards out. This gave the Belgian the space he needed to hit a first-time curler to the back post where Sterling ran on to re-direct the ball just inside the far post.
City was on the board within 20 minutes thanks to Sterling. As it turned out, Spurs answered almost immediately and Sterling was relatively quiet the rest of the day, getting only one more shot on goal.
Spurs and Ederson’s line
You can ask Wojciech Szczesny; Tottenham is willing to shoot from anywhere at any time. With his squad down 1-0 on the road, Erik Lamela picked a great time to expose Ederson’s poor positioning. Tanguy saw that Lamela was inside of Raheem Sterling who was slow getting back.
Lamela took three touches before unleashing a crafty shot from long range.
While Lamela was attacking toward the middle of the field, Ederson was cheating and lost his place, protecting what looked like the near post. This left Lamela with a target to hit, which he did with aplomb.
DeBruyne not done yet
Following the tying goal, DeBruyne again took matters into his own hands. It looked like DeBruyne was checking to the ball, but instead went over the top and got behind the defence.
The Belgian drilled a perfect pass to Aguero who beat Davison Sánchez far too easily. Sánchez played a good game overall, with several big blocks and clearances, but in this instance was left wanting. Had Gundogan taken a gilded opportunity a little before the half, DeBruyne could have had a hat-trick of assists. Instead, the German blasted wide of the goal, leaving Pochettino’s side with a chance, and the interval to adjust.
Spurs second half changes
After a first half where the team was comfortable conceding much of the possession, Spurs were more aggressive in the second half, particularly with the long ball. Tottenham played more than 30 of their 49 long balls in the second half. Additionally, 4 of the 5 crosses on the day were in the second half.
Clearly the game plan for the second half was to absorb more pressure but also to go long and strike quick on the counter. This approach was particularly more threatening after Lucas Moura’s introduction.
Moura made an immediate impact on the game, scoring after only 19 seconds of being on the pitch, flicking a Lamela corner past Ederson.
Spurs just not sharp
Ultimately, Tottenham just wasn’t sharp today. More often than not, they lost the ball or misplaced a pass. If they were sharp who knows what would have happened. Then again, the way City plays at home makes it hard for any team to perform to their capability. Spurs were panicked on the ball and kept giving it away, particularly in the midfield.
Whether it was Eriksen not connecting with Kane or Lamela taking too long on the ball, the decisiveness needed to beat a team like City just wasn’t there. However, the two equalizers and VAR were, making the result all the more satisfying. Not a textbook tie, but one Spurs will surely take.